It’s been obscured now by all the twerking and Wayne Coyne collaborations, but Miley Cyrus’ origins lie in country music. On her new Younger Now, the best cuts are the ones where she clings to those still-strong Tennessee roots. Here she even duets with godmother Dolly Parton—preceded by a voicemail from Parton, so we know how close they are—on standout “Rainbowland,” a deceptively simple, sweet ode to inclusivity that’s considerably heightened by Cyrus and Parton’s intertwined vocals. “Week Without You” also features a honky-tonk beat beneath its nostalgic, unexpectedly appealing doo-wop waltz, while the steel guitar of “Miss You So Much” and fiddle of the anthemic “Inspired” also place Cyrus firmly back in the Nashville canon. Removed from the digital showboating that’s colored so much of her pop work, Younger Now is characterized by a refreshing, down-home sincerity.
Of course, she’s still Miley Cyrus, and her more familiar persona comes through on songs like “She’s Not Him,” which gets extra points for directly addressing Cyrus’ pansexuality (she’s on record as hating the word “bisexual”)—although most of Younger Now has to do with one lover in particular. The credits on promo photos isn’t usually worth mentioning, but it’s noteworthy here that the one above was snapped by Miley Cyrus’ currently on-again fiancé, Liam Hemsworth. Their relationship is pretty much the theme, rhyme, and reason of the entire album, often resembling heartbroken journal entries throughout its various waxes and wanes put to music. Cyrus’ voice has scarcely been more expressive, and there’s no question that she means what she sings.
That said, you might long for a more inspired metaphor (or eight). The title track appears to be Cyrus’ attempt to reboot her career—if not her whole life—yet it falls back on ancient clichés (“No one stays the same / What goes up must come down”). She gets even more generically blunt on the hand-clap-buoyed “Malibu” (“We are just like the waves that flow back and forth”) and “I Would Die For You,” which kicks off with the line “You mean everything to me,” over acoustic strings and soft drum brushes. Hopefully Hemsworth gets the message by this point, because we certainly do.
When Cyrus strays from love into anger—and when she leaves Nashville for the nightclub—on more aggressive songs like “Thinkin’,” “Love Someone,” and “Bad Mood,” it feels like Cyrus is working against herself: None of them can match the power of something like “Wrecking Ball.” Instead, Younger Now’s successes all hark back to her 2009 hit “The Climb” and her humble, country-pop roots. Now that Miley has found her way home, it might behoove her to stay there.